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The Harper Brothers Great War Story

Video file

The video for this story about Gordon and Robin Harper screened on TV3 News on 20 April 2015.

An extraordinary account of two brothers, Gordon and Robin Harper, who fought side by side at Gallipoli and then in the Sinai campaign as machine gunners with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. Members of a prominent Canterbury family, they were the youngest of seven sons of George and Agnes Harper. Four of their sons left to fight in the First World War; only two returned.

Gordon and Robin enlisted soon after war broke out and sailed with the Main Body to Egypt. When they landed at Gallipoli in May 1915 they met their older brother Philip, who had arrived earlier with the infantry. The brothers had earlier agreed that if they wanted to summon one another they would signal to the other with their dog whistles. So on arrival at Anzac Cove they blew their whistles and Philip came running. When Gordon was hit in the neck during the attack on Hill 60 in late August, Robin rescued him and after he had left Gordon blew his whistle and Robin came back to share in confession on the beach.

Gordon survived and was reunited with Robin in Egypt in January 1916. They served together as the Mounted Rifles took part in a campaign to drive the Ottomans back across the harsh Sinai Desert to Palestine. In August, during the Battle of Romani, Gordon was hit again. Robin rode to his aid and carried him to shelter. But this time his brother's wounds would prove fatal.

The Harper brothers' story is captured in the evocative letters written by Gordon to his mother and enriched by photographs, personal affects and other objects kept by the Harper family. It ends tragically with the only surviving letter written by Robin, telling his family of Gordon's death in the Sinai. Robin and Philip Harper survived the war. Another brother, Eric, who enlisted at the age of 38 after hearing of Gordon's death, died in Palestine in April 1918.

Further information


Video: TV3 MediaWorks and AC Productions. See: full video credits here (pdf)

Research and scripts: Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Images, historic video and further sources: Archives New Zealand and National Library of New Zealand.

How to cite this page

The Harper Brothers Great War Story, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated